Dec. 2, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

The University of West Florida women’s soccer team knows what it is like to go through the regular season without a loss or win a conference championship – they even know how it feels to play for the NCAA Division II title.  This year, the Lady Argonauts are set on learning how it feels to win the national championship.

The Argos entered the 2008 NCAA semifinals with a 23-0-1 record, and handily defeated Saint Rose, 4-0, to earn a spot in the national title match against Seattle Pacific.  The setting could not have been more perfect to claim the school’s first-ever NCAA title as UWF was hosting the Division II Championship, but unfortunately, the Argos came out on the losing end of a double-overtime 1-0 battle with Seattle Pacific.

With that experience behind them, UWF returned 10 senior starters this year and added the National Junior College Player of the Year to the squad, and are poised to finally claim that title.  The Lady Argos are 22-0-0 and have outscored foes 115-9 this season entering the NCAA semifinals.  They will face Cal State- Dominguez Hills on Dec. 3 as they attempt to reach the championship game for the second straight year.

“It helps that each of the seniors has a different role – a different type of leadership,” said senior defender Kaley Morris.  “Some of the seniors lead through example and may not be the most boisterous or loudest ones on the team, but they play with heart and you can see their presence on the field, whereas other people are more vocal.  Even though there are so many seniors, it’s about how they lead.”

Morris says last year’s experience has definitely readied the team for this time around.

“I think the difference between last year and this year is our team has a lot more character,” said Morris.  “We have experience of the situation.  We are not going to be as shocked or surprised.  We know that last year we didn’t talk at all, and this year, we’re going to try to figure out the things we’re going to fix.  I think coach is also going to have a better understanding of how to approach this tournament.  Hopefully, we’re going to be a lot more composed this year.”

In comparison to last season’s journey, West Florida has faced many more challenges, especially in the NCAA Tournament.  In 2008, the Argos had home field advantage for the entire tournament and by coincidence they were hosting the championship round.  

“We had our fans, we had our parents, we had our beds – everything was at our feet – we just wanted to play,” said Morris.  “This year, there are so many obstacles – we had fans yelling at us, a different field, cold weather – there were so many factors that benefitted us as a team going into the national semifinals.  Last year, we weren’t down at all.  This year, we were down almost 70 minutes against Carson-Newman until we realized we had to pick it up and start playing together.”

The talent-laden squad boasts four First Team All-Americans, including the 2009 Daktronics Ron Lenz National Player of the Year Shakira Duncan and the 2008 National Player of the Year Sheneka Gordon.  Joining them were Shameka Gordon and Marcela Franco on the First Team, and goalkeeper Courtney Jones and Morris to the Second Team.  All six are seniors.  

Duncan leads the nation with 3.5 points and 1.455 goals per game, while Shaneka Gordon has dished out a nation-leading 20 assists.  The Argos have led Division II in scoring all season with a current average of 5.23 goals per game, but UWF’s defense has posted a 0.413 goals against average, which ranks sixth in the nation.

“Our offense and midfield to a great job of keeping the ball contained on the other half, so there are some games where the defense does not need to get that involved and even is making overlapping runs,” said Morris.  “As playoff time comes, it evens out a little more and the offense is even in the back trying to help us clear out on corners and quick counter attacks. I think it depends on what game it is as to who has more of an opportunity for holding the ball.”

Regardless of whether the contest is an offensive or defensive battle, the Lady Argos are prepared for their next opponent -- Cal State-Dominguez Hills (16-8-2) on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.  The game will follow the first semifinal match-up of Grand Valley State (20-0-4) and Saint Rose (24-0-0) which begins at 5 p.m. ET.

“The record doesn’t matter – they’ve won the games they needed to win to get to the final four,” said Morris.  “At this point, records and results can be set aside because it depends who wants to show up and leave everything on the field and play with no regrets.”

The two winners will meet for the national title game on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. ET.  The contest will be televised live on CBS College Sports.